For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.
—1 Corinthians 14:2
What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.
—1 Corinthians 14:15
I don’t think any spiritual gift causes more problems than tongues. Talk about tongues in some Christian circles and you’ll be ostracized. Fail to talk about it in others and you’ll be written off as a spiritual flyweight. Both reactions are a mistake.
I almost have to apologize in advance for being a charismatic, because charismaniacs have poisoned the well a million times over. But I came to the charismatic ranks through the Lutheran Church, believe it or not, so my journey has been a little bit different. Mostly, I praise God that He has kept me out of the excesses that plague some sectors of the charismatic movement. I think there is a pure strain of charismatic thought and theology that still holds true to the way things should be in the Church, and I thank God for those sane voices out there who have kept me on the straight and narrow.
That said, while I talk about charismatic issues from time to time here at Cerulean Sanctum, rarely do I talk about a specific gift, and never do I talk about tongues.
Do I speak in tongues? Yes, but usually only in prayer, and mostly when I am praying for other people and need direction for how to pray for them. Even then, I pray in tongues almost inaudibly so that it is more a prayer between the Lord and me and not for any showy reason. In other words, I’m not one of those loud SHAMBALAHONDA folks by any means. (And yes, they sometimes drive me a little bit nuts, too.)
Despite any negatives people might conjure about tongues, I want to be forthright here and say that I cannot run away from the truth that praying in tongues makes a huge difference in one’s prayer life. Huge. When I add tongues to my prayers, it’s like throwing gasoline on a fire. Like Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:15 above, I sometimes pray normally, then mix in tongues, especially in those situations where I need help praying, need supernatural insight, or when God taps me on the shoulder and asks me to pray in tongues.
The other night, I was with a group of fellow believers and we went into a time of prayer; immediately, I felt drawn to tongues. God directed my entire offering of prayer, and I only shared those portions with the group that I prayed normally. The tongues part I prayed quietly as I reached out by the Spirit to commune with the Lord on a deeper level.
And I do believe it is a deeper level, just as 1 Corinthians 14:2 above states. Praying in tongues quietly drove the public, English portion of that prayer that I offered to the group. I believe my spirit tapped into a reservoir of God and His spiritual riches, allowing me to pray more effectively. It was a more anointed prayer. Less of me, too, and more of the Lord. I could not have prayed that prayer any other way.
That’s why it bothers me that some Christians erect the wall right away when speaking in tongues is mentioned. When I think how much tongues betters my prayer life, I can’t possibly see why God would retract that gift or simply let it pass away with the last apostle. Praying in tongues makes for a better prayer life. How could God not desire that for His people?
Don’t get me wrong; this is not a first-class-tongues-praying Christian versus second-class-non-tongues-praying Christian issue! If anything, tongues itself takes the runner-up spot to prophesying. Paul saw the benefit in both prophesying and tongues, but he correctly notes why prophesying is the gift he desires most for people. I’ve also met plenty of Christians who claim to speak in tongues but who offer up “lead balloon” prayers while their non-tongues-speaking counterparts pray with obvious anointing.
Still, there is a mystery and power in tongues that should not be ignored. And as we all know, Christianity cannot escape being rooted in a lifetime of trans-rational mystical experiences. To simply say that Jesus rose again and lives inside each believer is by its very nature a mystical belief. So is the operation of tongues. Or faith, in general, for that matter: we believe in an invisible reality we cannot see save for the mystical eyes of faith.
As I get older, the more I see the value of tongues as a supplement in my prayer life; call tongues a spiritual multivitamin. It doesn’t comprise the entirety of the prayer “meal” I eat each day, but it ensures I get every spiritual nutrient in God’s bounty that was provided for me at the cross of Christ.